River Song is back for more audio adventures, and this time she’s delving into the worlds of previous Doctor Who stories. But can these stories succeed on more than just nostalgia? Read on to find out my thoughts!
1. “An Unearthly Woman” by Matt Fitton
As the title suggests, this story sees River step into the world of the very first Doctor Who story: An Unearthly Child. This script, written by Matt Fitton, sees her not only become a teacher at Coal Hill School, but also join the Totter’s Lane police as WPC Pond, all in an effort to track down the nefarious Nightstalker, which is roaming the streets of Shoreditch searching for someone…
Alex Kingston is joined in this story by Claudia Grant, Jamie Glover and Jemma Powell as Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright respectively, reprising their roles from the stellar First Doctor Adventures range. River’s interactions with these iconic characters are just superb, and are definitely the biggest success of the piece.
Fitton expertly expands on the lives of Ian, Barbara and Susan before they set out travelling with the Doctor, drawing on the world we saw in An Unearthly Child to flesh them all out a little more. I must admit my favourite parts of the story were the moments where Ian and Barbara are just going about their day-to-day lives: drinking in the Red Lion with the other teachers, and working at the school.
That’s not to say the sci-fi aspects of the story aren’t good; they most definitely are. The villain of the piece, the aforementioned Nightstalker, is a rather novel idea, though I did find the way River eventually deals with it a little quick. All in all, though, this is a story all about character, so that can be forgiven.
I also enjoyed the characters of Sheila (Lizzie Stables) and Lloyd (Edward Dede), two orphaned classmates of Susan. While their stories are compelling in their own right, I also loved the way they helped give more development to Susan.
Overall, this is a near-perfect story, full of delightful character moments. There are a few twists and surprises along the way too, including a link to another ongoing Big Finish range that made my jaw drop when I heard it! A great opener to the set.
2. “The Web of Time” by John Dorney
John Dorney‘s The Web of Time sees River enter the world of the Second Doctor story The Web of Fear as she seeks a priceless piece of artwork. Joining with Captain Knight (Ralph Watson), a character from the original 1968 story, she encounters the Yeti, the Great Intelligence and a mother-daughter thief duo in an exciting adventure that continues the high standard begun by the opening story of the set.
Given that (spoiler alert!) Captain Knight is killed during The Web of Fear, River’s secondary goal in this story is keeping him alive so as to maintain the timeline. This leads to some rather emotional scenes between the two characters, with River hinting at his fate and Knight remaining oblivious.
River herself in this story is expertly characterised, exhibiting her usual heroism alongside a refreshing sense of ruthlessness that we haven’t really seen in her audio adventures to date. Moments like abandoning doomed soldiers to die in a collapsing house and pointing a gun at a young girl hearken back to her roots as an assassin, making her seem like a more rounded character.
This story sees the return of the Great Intelligence, played sinisterly here by Samuel Clemens, and the Yeti. Howard Carter‘s sound design for both villains is fantastic, emulating the original effects from the 1960s, and Dorney uses the characters to great effect.
There are, like in An Unearthly Woman, some nice ties to other Big Finish and Doctor Who stories in this one, particularly in the opening scene. It’s always great when writers reference other works in the Doctor Who universe; it makes everything seem more cohesive.
Overall, this is another fantastic story in the set, shedding some light on an overlooked character, giving a welcome return to an old enemy and full of great moments for River herself.
3. “Peepshow” by Guy Adams
Peepshow by Guy Adams takes place during the Third Doctor story Carnival of Monsters, and sees River infiltrate the Miniscope to steal a powerful battery. Within, she comes across some old enemies, and makes a new friend.
This friend is Clive Wood‘s Dibbsworth, a security guard who enters the Miniscope with River after a mishap with a saber-toothed tiger… sorry- smilodon. Hilariously written and performed, Dibbsworth is an everyman thrust into a world of miniaturised aliens, and he has an amazing dynamic with River too.
Together, our heroes face Sontarans (Dan Starkey), Ogrons (Guy Adams) and Drashigs, making for an incredibly action-packed story. Howard Carter‘s sound design and music here are the best in the set, and he brings to life the various chase scenes and creature noises perfectly.
At times, this script can seem like a bit of a runaround, perhaps lacking the depth of the other stories in the set, but that’s a good thing, giving this series some tonal variety. There’s a nice surprise at the end, too, which really elevated the story for me.
Overall, this wasn’t my favourite story in the set, but it wasn’t my least favourite either. Fun is the word I’d use to describe it, and sometimes fun is exactly what you need!
4. “The Talents of Greel” by Paul Morris
The final story in the set, written by Paul Morris, is a prequel to The Talons of Weng Chiang. Featuring the much-loved Henry Gordon Jago (Christopher Benjamin), returning for the first time after the end of the Jago & Litefoot range upon Trevor Baxter’s unfortunate passing, The Talents of Greel is a fun way to end the boxset.
The chemistry between Alex Kingston and Christopher Benjamin is fantastic, and is, in my opinion, the best part of the story. Flirtatious and cheeky, their interactions are exactly what you’d expect from the clashing of two of the Doctor Who universe’s biggest personalities!
The best moment between the two comes in the last half, where they take to the stage in the Palace Theatre and sing to the masses. I had a smile on my face all throughout this section of the script, and I’m sure everyone else listening did too!
The nefarious Magnus Greel returns in this story, played sinisterly by Angus Wright. With Nicholas Goh as Chang and Mr. Sin on board too, this story is full of villains, including a particularly violent monkey!
The Talents of Greel is perhaps the weakest story in the set, but that’s nothing bad. After all, when the weakest story is this good, how can I complain?
Although the first two episodes are slightly stronger than the second two, this is, overall, a very good boxset. Giving some great development to River, bringing back some much-loved characters and foes, and with some delightful surprises, The Diary of River Song: Volume 6 is another fantastic release in a range that is constantly right at the top of Big Finish’s output. Roll on volume 7!
The Diary of River Song: Volume 6 can be purchased on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
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